New Media Darling: New Hampshire Press Helps Fuel Obama's Surge

It’s not just the national media that’s got the ear of New Hampshire voters in the days before their first-in-the-nation primary tomorrow. Local newspapers are filled with stories about the various candidates, and The Concord Monitor (which reaches about 20,000 weekday readers in and around the state’s capital city) has had a spate of stories favorable to Barack Obama since Thursday’s Iowa caucuses.

What makes that all the more interesting is that the generally liberal newspaper endorsed Hillary Clinton back on December 30, saying the former First Lady “has the right experience, the right agenda and the know-how to lead the country back to respect on the world stage and meaningful progress on long-neglected problems.”

But since the caucuses, more than a few pro-Obama pieces have found their way into the paper. On January 4, for example, the Monitor ran a long story headlined “Speaking of faith, Obama does; Senator bucks party trend to reach out.” The first couple of paragraphs will give you the flavor:

Barack Obama would be justified if he chose to push religion aside in the presidential race. Religion has rarely been a key issue for the Democratic Party, and personally, Obama, a Christian, has been smeared falsely — more than once — as a radical Muslim. But instead, the Illinois senator has called on the Democratic Party to reach out to religious voters.

"We know that 90 percent of Americans believe in a higher power, we know that huge chunks of voters in swing states consider religion a really important part of their lives," Obama told the Monitor. "If we aren't speaking to those issues, then I think we're missing a huge part of the electorate that cares about family, poor people, a lot of issues I care about as a senator and a presidential candidate."

In his approach to religion, Obama has walked a fine line, emphasizing the importance of Christian faith to his own life while advocating a universal ideology that respects the separation of church and state.

The next day, Saturday, January 5, readers found an uplifting story about an Obama rally with the positive headline, “Words unashamedly hopeful; Obama presses on with message of unity.” Here’s a short excerpt:

Fresh off his momentous victory in the Iowa caucus and with a voice hoarse from frenetic campaigning, Sen. Barack Obama exhorted New Hampshire residents yesterday to deliver him a second win.

"Last night the American people began down the road to change, and four days from now, New Hampshire, you have the chance to change America," he told several hundred voters in a hangar at the Pease International Tradeport in Porstmouth. He reiterated that message midday to a similarly large crowd at Concord High School.

Obama emphasized a message of unity among Democrats, Republicans and independents....If Obama wins the Democratic primary Tuesday, he pledged to unify the party, then "go out to gather independents and Republicans and form a working majority" to win the general election.

"We'll build a coalition that stretches between red states and blue states, that's how we'll win in November," he said.

On Sunday, January 6, a story headlined “Going Negative; Audacity of attacks” singled out Hillary Clinton among Democrats for her campaign’s attacks on Obama:

Sen. Barack Obama faced a barrage of criticism on the campaign trail and in mailboxes yesterday, with his rivals criticizing his support of nuclear power and accusing him of taking an ambiguous position on abortion rights. Members of one advocacy group supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton called on its leader to stop a negative ad campaign against Obama....

Here is a rundown of the day's negative campaigning:

• A Clinton campaign flyer criticizing Obama's stance on abortion rights landed in New Hampshire mailboxes yesterday, accusing the Illinois senator of being "unwilling to take a stand on choice."...Obama campaign spokesman Reid Cherlin said the claim was false and already backfired once when Clinton tried to make it in Iowa. The campaign also provided a prepared statement from Lorna Barrett, the president of the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women. Brett called the mailer a "red herring."
"Barack Obama is and always has been there for the choice community. I know — I was there with him in the trenches," she said. "This is offensive. I am pro-choice, pro-truth, pro-Hillary - in that order. And questioning the latter. I am very disgusted by this tactic being used by the Clinton campaign."...

This morning, the Monitor’s editorial page ran a pro-Obama piece plucked from the pages of Friday’s Washington Post. The column, written by the liberal editor of The Washington Monthly Charlie Peters, lauds Obama’s work in the Illinois state legislature on a bill designed to protect accused criminals from police beatings by mandating videotaping of interrogations. The Monitor’s headline: “Obama won over legislators to bring change to Illinois.”

People who complain that Barack Obama lacks experience must be unaware of his legislative achievements. One reason these accomplishments are unfamiliar is that the news media have not devoted enough attention to Obama's bills and the effort required to pass them, ignoring impressive, hard evidence of his character and ability.

Since most of Obama's legislation was enacted in Illinois, most of the evidence is found there - and it has been largely ignored by the media in a kind of Washington snobbery that assumes state legislatures are not to be taken seriously. (Another factor is reporters' fascination with the horse race at the expense of substance that they assume is boring, a fascination that despite being ridiculed for years continues to dominate political journalism.)

I am a rarity among Washington journalists in that I have served in a state legislature. I know from my time in the West Virginia legislature that the challenges faced by reform-minded state representatives are no less, if indeed not more, formidable than those encountered in Congress. For me, at least, trying to deal with those challenges involved as much drama as any election. And the "heart and soul" bill, the one for which a legislator gives everything he or she has to get passed, has long told me more than anything else about a person's character and ability.

Consider a bill into which Obama clearly put his heart and soul. The problem he wanted to address was that too many confessions, rather than being voluntary, were coerced - by beating the daylights out of the accused....

Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes is the Senior Editor for Newsbusters